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Tombstone circa 1881
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Tombstone is the most famous of Arizona mining camps with its colorful history. Located in the Mule Mountains at an elevation of 4,426 feet.

Ed Schieffelin was born in 1848 in California, son of a forty-niner.  He prospected in Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho and in 1877 went to Arizona with a cavalry troop from San Bernardino, California.  The Apaches were on the warpath and the small garrison of men at Fort Huachuca had the duty of protecting all non-Indians in the area.  Some of the soldiers warned him all he'd find was his own tombstone, but Schieffelin ventured into the Apache lands - alone, in search of riches.

In 1877 or 1878 he found a ledge of silver ore; and with the soldiers warning still fresh in mind, called his claim the Tombstone.  The second prospect he located, he called the Graveyard.

Schieffelin took some ore samples to his brother Al, who was working at the Signal mine.  The company assayer who analyzed the ore was Richard K. Gird.  Gird was so impressed with the results of his assay he persuaded the brothers to let him join them in developing the claims.  The prospectors also located additional claims - The Lucky Cuss and Tough Nut.  Shortly after that the Contention and Grand Central deposits were staked.

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Tombstone Stagecoach
Circa 2000

Old Modoc Stage
Photo courtesy of Cochise County Historical Society

A roaring camp grew up in the vicinity of the Lucky Cuss mine.  It was called Watervale.   Later the settlement was abandoned in favor of a location on a mesa by the Tough Nut mine.  Officially in April 1879, the location became known as Tombstone.

By 1880, Tombstone had boomed into perhaps the most famous mining camp it the West.  During that year a cyclone hit, raising havoc.  In 1882 the camp is said to have had one hundred and fifty licensed saloons.   Fire virtually destroyed the town in 1881, and again in 1882.  Both times Tombstone rebuilt, and at one time the population probably reached between fourteen and twenty thousand people.   In 1887 and earthquake shook the town, reportedly stopping every clock.

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OK Corral 1879
Photo courtesy of the
Cochise County Historical Society

The most famous calamity to hit Tombstone was the fabled gunfight, probably staged in a vacant lot near the OK Corral and Livery.   The cast of characters and the location of the fight are pretty well agreed upon, but there is a historical argument over when it occurred.  Some say it was October 17, 1981 and the majority say it was October 26.  Still another authority says October 25.  The shoot-out was reported in the October 27, 1881, edition of the Tombstone Epitaph.


The fight climaxed a long-standing feud between the Earp brothers and the Clanton-McLowery gang who sided with Sheriff John Behan.  They squared off near the OK Corral - nine of the toughest men in the territory.

When the smoke had cleared, Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne had run away, Frank and Tom McLowery were dead, and Billy Clanton lay dying.   Virgil Earp had sustained a leg wound, while Morgan Earp was shot in the left shoulder, and Doc Holliday had suffered a minor back wound.

While such goings-on occurred above ground, miners encountered serious problems below.  As shafts went deeper, they struck water at about the five to six hundred foot level.  Huge pumps were installed, and pumping operations were continued until 1885 at the Grand Central, until a fire destroyed the pump house.  A year later the Contention hoist and pumping works burned.  Both mines were forced to close.  The year of 1885 saw most of the mines in the area flooded.

Little mining activity went on during the next few years.  The idea was advanced that by consolidating all interconnected mines in the area into one operation, the flooding problem could be overcome.   Capital was raised, and in time pumps raised to the surface about eight million gallons of water a day.  But pumping costs were prohibitive - the cost for fuel oil alone was reported to have been $700 a day.  Again, resolutely, water sought its own level, and Tombstone ceased to exist as a mining town.

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Tombstone Public School - early 1900's
Photo courtesy of the Cochise Historical Society

Cattle ranching kept the town going but the population dwindled and most of the buildings decayed. But in the mid-1900s, tourists discovered the one-time home of the Earps and Clantons. Historic buildings were repaired and restored. Boot Hill, the first cemetery to be so named, became a top attraction and the famed shootout was re-enacted to thrill visitors.

It's now a prime attraction on anybody's tour of southeastern Arizona, with saloons and distinctive restaurants. The old courthouse has become a museum of Wild West history and the whole town has been designated a national historic landmark.

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Million Dollar Stope - Abandoned caved-in mine shaft
Photo courtesy of the Cochise County Historical Society

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For more information:
Tombstone Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 995
Tombstone,  AZ   85638
(520) 457-9317

Tombstone is 70 miles southeast of Tucson, and is easily reached via Interstate 10 to Benson and then south from Benson on Arizona Route 80.

State of Maine Mining Company - Outskirts of Tombstone

Things to see and do

Boot Hill Graveyard - The cemetery holds the graves of many of Tombstone's early settlers of the mining camp and quite a few desperados. Most of the historic buildings are along the boardwalks that line Allen Street, one block west of the highway. Gunfights and barroom brawls are staged along Allen Street on several Sundays each month. The Bird Cage Theater, from 1881 the home of bawdy entertainment -- previously a dance hall, saloon, theater, brothel and gambling house -- has no performances today but is open. Bullet holes score the theater's old walls.

The Crystal Palace Saloon - a 1879 watering hole and gambling den that has been faithfully restored; the long back-bar is not the original but an excellent replica. The saloon is open daily for drinking and eating, with entertainment on weekends.

The O.K. Corral - the corral where it is said the legendary gunfight between the Earp and Clanton brothers and Doc Holliday took place (it didn't). The fight actually took place on what is now a vacant lot near the corral on Fremont St. Nearby there are several other historic buildings including the photographic studio of C. S. Fly, which has a showing of historic photos. An admission fee is charged for these attractions.

Rose Tree Inn Museum - In the 1880's home courtyard is a rose tree more than 100 years old -- reputed to be the world's largest. Covering a huge arbor (8,000 square feet) the old rose plant blooms each April.

Tombstone Courthouse - Built in 1882 this large brick structure is at the corner of Toughnut and Third Streets.  It's now a state historic park and museum filled with artifacts and photographs of the 1880s. The town gallows is on display in the courtyard, and the gift shop is the best place in town to buy books on the history of the town and region. You can visit the old offices of the Tombstone Epitaph to see how pioneer newspapers were produced and purchase a souvenir copy of the second-oldest continuously published paper in Arizona.

Places to Shop

Silver Hills Trading Company - 504 Allen Street.  The owner's family dates back to 1879 when they homesteaded in the area.  As unique Tombstone is to it's history so is the combination of southwestern jewelry from the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Santa Domingo tribes, with semi-precious stones set in silver or gold-filled jewelry.  We have an outstanding collection of Indian crafted items from throughout the southwest.  So, no matter what type of gift you are looking for be sure and browse through our selection of fine jewelry, gift items, t-shirts, hats, kokopelli dolls, Southwestern decorative accessories such as sandstone coasters and tableware, and a variety of books from cooking to Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. 

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Places to Eat

Nellie Cashman Restaurant - located at the corner of Fifth and Toughnut.  This restaurant has historical photos of Tombstone on the wall and has an extensive menu.   The historic adobe building survived the fires of the 1880s, mainly because of the 18-inch walls.  For information and reservations, call (520) 457-2212.

Vogan's Alley Bar - located two doors down from 5th and Allen.

The Longhorn - located on the corner of Allen and 5th is popular with the locals, serving good food in a rustic setting.

Don Teodoro's - located on Fourth Street it serves Mexican food.

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Places to Stay

Larian Motel - Large comfortable rooms, reasonable rates.
410 Fremont St. (Hwy. 80), P.O. Box 224, Tombstone, AZ 85638 (520) 457-2272

Lookout Lodge - The newest and most modern place to stay in Benson.
Hwy. 80, P.O. Box 787, Tombstone AZ 85638   (520) 457-2223

Tombstone Motel - Older and smaller hotel offers clean, comfortable accommodations.
9th Street at Fremont, Tombstone AZ 85638    (520) 457-3478

Marie's Engaging Bed and Breakfast - Located near downtown, this B&B is an original 4-room adobe structure, built by a store owner named John Rock in the late 1800's.
101 North 4th Street, Box 744, Tombstone, AZ 85638     (520) 457-3831

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